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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  February 23, 2012 12:00am-12:30am PST

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1.5 million followers. his latest project is a new book featuring some of his favorite tweets. he also continues to record and perform with his banjo. we are glad that you have joined us. our conversation with steve martin, coming up right now. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: pleased to welcome steve martin back to this program.
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the iconic comedian, actor, and writer is also a musician. his latest cd is called "where bird alert -- rare bird alert." he is also an avid tweeter. is that a word? >> it is now. tavis: his new book is a collection of some of his favorite tweets, "the ten -- make that nine habits of very organized people. make that 10 -- the tweets of steve martin." >> it is a good title to read, not to say. you have to kind of look at it rather than say it. tavis: especially with the lines and the circles. the high loved this book, it fits in your pocket. >> you would not really want to put it in your pocket. i think of it as perfect reading for a train, although nobody really goes on a train any more.
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maybe an airplane. certainly not what you are driving. tavis: was this written by popular demand? >> popular demand? nothing i do is done by popular demand. no, i wrote this -- that is a strange way to put it, but over the last one and a half years, this is the first interview i have done the about this, so i don't even know what words are coming out of my mouth. i went on twitter. i did not know what i was doing. i thought it is going to be kind of a commercial venture, to be able to promote things. it did not work out that way. i started writing funding things, -- funny things, what i thought were funny things, and completely kept changing all the time. then it became little stories. always moving. then i started realizing -- i did not realize i was getting
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responses for a while. then i started reading the responses and were quite funny. i started collecting them and saving them, cutting and pasting by hand. after a year-and-a-half was over, i started looking at them and i thought, this is like a new form of comedy. i collected them. i am donating the proceeds to my charitable fund. it actually makes me laugh, so i thought, well, that is good enough. so there is. tavis: i like the story -- >> because it is so interesting? tavis: interesting enough to lead me to another question, which is why one, at this point in your career, given your age, given that twitter is all the rage, but artistically duke it out of this? >> i actually get laughs. i get laughs at thinking up things, and at first i thought, well, i will be writing a lot of
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things. i will probably come across things that i could use, say, and our banjo show. i like to do comedy in the banjo show, things i could use on letterman or leno. then, none of that worked out. it is really just its own thing. but i have been getting a lot of laughs for myself and followers. i found myself a lot running into my wife and saying, listen to this. and it is amusing. tavis: you are up to 1.7 million followers. that you are way low. i'm mad about 2.3 million. tavis: my research -- >> it is all on the internet. it is the one thing that you could actually research on the internet and get the facts. sorry, i'm coughing. because he said the word fact. that does not work. that and the internet to not go together.
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tavis: what do you make of how fast that number has grown? >> i feel good about it. i feel good. instead of going to for northside fixed, it keeps going up. tavis: where their managers, agents, advisers who told you not to do this? because a lot of folks get in trouble. >> one of my earliest tweets, i actually got a few, i only had a few followers at the time, and i will probably get in trouble for saying this, but i said this very early, my publicist was worried about becoming a tweeter, because celebrities make such monumental gaffes, he is a typical "wop." can we cut that out? if you have an eraser?
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tavis: nobody said you might not want to do this? >> no, no. no, that is the great thing about humor. if it is said in a light-hearted way, you can get away with murder. comedians do that all the time in their shows. tavis: do you find yourselves now transfixed with this? are you sitting on the toy that tweeting? >> yeah. tavis: are you dictate to it? >> no, no. at first, i was panicked if i thought i made a lousy joke or just made a big mistake. i would actually get heart palpitations. then i completely got over that. i realized in the early days, when i was a writer for television, one of the great things about it, i always thought, well, there is always next week. and here, there is always, well,
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there is always the next second. tavis: anything that you tweeted and thought twice about before you pushed "send." >> i have, but nothing that significant. usually, it is in terms of grammar. sometimes, i tweeted something and realized i misspelled something on a grammatical mistake that i made, and you can delete it and resend it. i do not know why i did this, but maybe to be different, i don't know, but i made a rule early on that there would be no abbreviations and no -- i don't know what you call them, just like the letter "b" for the word "be," to save a character? i would spell everything out,
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february, instead of "feb." or if i did an abbreviation, i would say, i abbreviated the word february to save space. tavis: that is funny. i saw your tweet, "lunch with gaddafi, canceled." >> oh. that is what he was killed. tavis: sometimes these things can be politically challenging. >> i also said that i canceled my banjo tour of libya. some of the more topical things i did not put in there. tavis: let me stop being silly and ask a more serious question -- o -- oh, you are being silly? i did not realize. tavis: what do you make of the fact that this instrument, this
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technology, for lack of a better word, really has toppled dictators and led to were the political uprising? you use it for humor, some use it for promotion, both good things, what you make of that? >> i think it is great for humor. i worry a little bit that it could topple dictators or legitimate people. because you have to be very thoughtful when it comes to nations. you cannot just get everybody excited for a second. i love that it topples dictators, but i would not want it to topple legitimate people with the same kind of fervor. tavis: technology offers a lot of good, a lot of advances, but it is fraught with as much potential danger as the good stuff. >> well, yeah, but so is a
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hammer. i mean, everything is fraught with danger. i love technology and i love science. it is all in the way that you use it. you cannot really blame anything on the technology. it is just the way that people use it, and it always has been. tavis: do you consciously recall when or how you came to see the world through the lens that you see it through? i can see something serious and two seconds later you turn it funny.osomething the recall when he started seeing the world that way? >> well, it is a period of growth. when i was young, but call at high-school, and even before that, i just love comedy, a lot comedians. i grew up watching laurel and
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hardy. that is really a long time ago. i love jerry lewis. i just loved comedians. i never really thought about becoming one. and i love to make people laugh. and high-school, then i found i love being on stage in front of people. i am sure that is some sort of ego trip or a way to overcome shyness. i was always kind of shy and reserved. there was a way to be on stage and performing and balance your life out. a point there comes when you are going to do that, if you're going to continue, you have to start to get good. i got a few lucky breaks in my career. and now i have had a career cop at i am still refining that ability to be funny, and i actually credit twitter with fine-tuning some joke writing skills. i still feel like i am working
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at it. i feel like i'm on tour with our banjo show, and i did not want people to think they were going to come see our show and there was going to be a guy who turns his back on the audience and place 37 songs and walks off. i knew that i wanted it to be fun and funny, so we incorporate comedy. i don't know, i just feel like i am back on stage entertaining people, like i did in the 1970's, but with a new attitude. and this helps. tavis: i'm always taken by the number of people have spoken with over the years, whether as comedians or other artists, were shy, still are shy, but find refuge being in front of thousands of people on stage. that never connects for me. >> well, it is not personal when
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you are on stage. it is not really overcome shyness. but it is a way to be a hero. being a hero makes it easier to walk into a room. you have a natural -- essentially, a way to meet girls, because you have overcome -- tavis: it all comes down to girls? >> you have something to talk about. i am not sure if it really works or not. now i am married, so i'd cannot do that anymore. so -- but, you know, everybody has their own problems. this is one of mine. tavis: i'm listening to my friend the other day, in conversation, i took a dare one time, maybe seven years ago, to go up on stage, and i did a tight three minutes. i will remember it as long as i live, two reasons.
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one, i'll never do it again, because i was scared out of my mind. i have been on television, but i have never been on stage to do a comedy bit. in front of a roomful of people, i do three minutes, got some laughs, funny. i will remember for as long as i live the feeling, what it felt like to actually make people laugh. and i was just doing it on a bair. how would you describe the feeling of being able to write material, go up on stage, and bring people to hysterics? >> well, in my early days, it was work. you are always thinkings. itay, you did three solid minutes. my mind immediately went to, oh, do 4. that is the way i always thought. i always thought, what is next, what is next? then you stretch it into an hour. your mind is always taking over.
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i wrote my book, about standing up, that it is hard to enjoy it because you were always thinking ahead. you are never really in the moment. but now when i deal with, i actually relished when i know i have a good joke coming up, because i am much more relaxed and i have this music thing that takes time between these jokes. i love having a good new joke that i cannot wait to get to or cannot wait to set up. i also have other band members on stage who have and to play with. i have never had that before. i have camaraderie, as i say. tavis: are the feelings, when you pick up your banjo, when you are playing, getting people respond in that way, are the feelings comparable? >> it is a very different thing. when i first started playing again, which was only about
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three years ago, oui had never really played with a band before, except a couple songs. i had always played alone. i was not used to having people and express enjoyment that way. to me, they always had to be vocal or something. i did not quite know how to handle it. i thought, oh, i am supposed to play something that is musical. i am not supposed to work really hard at it, does make them relax and enjoy it. i learned that very quickly, obviously. tavis: is it just me, or is the banjo undergoing some sort of renaissance right now? >> well, i think it is. i am starting to think it is because i am seeing it in so many places, yeah.
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tavis: that is a good thing. >> it is a good thing, because it is such an american instrument, and it has evoked so many feelings of america in some way. tavis: i don't know the answer to this, and this is not the only instrument that comes to mind that i could at ask this question about, but it is such a part of american history and culture. what happens in the culture when an instrument basically gets discarded for a while? when a typical instrument goes by the wayside, when at one point it was all the rage? what allows that to happen, do you think? >> well, i think it is as simple as times changing or something else takes over. it is like with elvis presley and all rest became old fashioned. i think this instrument is being resurrected. it has always been very mighty in a certain part of cultural
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america, and never really went away, but between the 1960's and now, some great, great players were being developed, and now they're just making their voices known. tavis: this is the latest project, "rare bird alert." >> our tour is not really start to the summertime, may, june, july, august. it was nominated for a grammy. tavis: you won a grammy. this won for another cd, was nominated. tavis: that must be nice. that is nice. tavis: there are people who have been doing it their whole career, you pick up and three years later you are nominated twice. how is this? >> well, we put different songs
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on it. that was my idea. and this one was recorded with the steep canyon rangers. it.n't know how to describe it is just a completely different record. tavis: there are so many artists now, and i see them on the show all the time, who feel they have to do a concept record to find their own space and the marketplace, because there are some people in that particular genre. they're trying to figure and a concept to make it work. you don't feel that pressure? >> well, in a sense, the first record was a concept record and that it was kind of, you know, a celebrity planning a banjo with songs that he wrote. and this album was the same idea, but now i am playing with
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an existing band, who are extremely good, the steep canyon rangers, and it was unified in that way. this is much more last produced, in a strange way, because it is more the band and me. and the third album will have to be more conceptual, because we don't want to just be another record. tavis: are you thinking of the third already? >> i have some ideas. tavis: "rare bird alert"? >> it is a long story. i was doing the movie, "the big year," and there was a story in there about the rare bird alert. i thought that was a good title. i wrote a song. tavis: can you grab your little -- it is not little -- >> sure. tavis: what is the high end? >> on the high end?
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about $200,000. tavis: for a banjo?! >> well, not new. that is a collectible, rare, dixon 5-terrain, from the 1930's. -- gibson 5-string, from the 1930's. you can buy a good enough want to play on for a couple hundred dollars. -- you can buy a good enough one to play on for a couple hundred dollars. tavis: if somebody wants to learn how to play banjo, where does somebody go? >> there are some places. you can get them online. you can buy videos. you can hire an instructor. you can get books. a learnedt outwo ways -- from
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books -- i learned two ways -- from books. pete seeger had a book. friends used to show me things. i never really had a lesson. i used to slow down 33 records and pick it out note for note. tavis: i am always impressed by somebody who never had a lesson and learn. am i was so motivated. i just love the instruments so much. you don't even have to play it. you can just do that, and it sounds good to me. tavis: if i were to do that >> n, it would sound horrible. >-- if i were to do that, it would sound horrible. >> no, it would sound good. the go-ahead, try. you are right, that was horrible. i like this tidal because it applies to that thing where we are sort of snowed in, maybe
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with your favorite other, and the fact that more bad weather is on the way is maybe not a bad thing. i have not played this and a long time. i hope that i get it right. >> play away. ♪ ♪
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tavis: very, very nice. >> thank you. tavis: i know there are folks in chicago who do not want to hear that, more bad weather on the way, but it does sound good. steve martin, the latest cd, grammy nominated this year is called, "rare bird alert." that is him along with the steep canyon rangers. and a new book from mr. marr is called -- i love this project i am good, i have been on screen. "the ten -- make that nine habits of very organized people. make that 10 -- the tweets of steve martin." >> i wonder if it is funnier if i read it?
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"the ten -- make that nine habits of very organized people. make that 10 -- the tweets of steve martin." no, not really. tavis: that was funnier to me. thank you for being on the program. that is our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with the remarkable story of a d.c. secretary who is chosen for a small village in ghana. that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like
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you. thank you. >> be more. pbs.
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>> this is "bbc world news." funding for this presentation is made possible by the freeman foundation of new york, stowe, vermont, and honolulu. newman's own foundation. newman's own foundation.

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